Stop Leaving Items Behind

Living in the world today means being out and about. Whether we ride a train to work, hop in a cab to get to the airport, or tote the family in the car, we need to carry our lives around. As we move from place to place, it is easy to accidentally leave belongings behind. Unfortunately, it is often a hassle (and expense) to replace them. 

Years ago I developed a simple system to minimize the chance of forgetting a possession I was carrying. It is called the “Number of Items Trick,” and here is how it works:


Whenever you leave a location (e.g. when you leave in the morning, when you take off on a trip, when you head to a meeting), COUNT the number of separate items you have with you. For example, on a typical daytime outing, this might include:

  1. Jacket/Coat
  2. Purse
  3. Briefcase/Backpack
  4. Cell Phone (it is good to count this separately because it is so easy to lose)

Of course, the list of what you might have with you will vary depending on your circumstances. If you are traveling on an airplane, you might also have a piece of carry-on luggage. If you are going to a meeting, you may have an extra bag with presentation supplies, a laptop, or a projector. If you are heading to school, you may have a piece of sporting equipment or a musical instrument. Perhaps you always bring a water bottle. On rainy days, you may have an umbrella. If you work in a specialized job or a trade, you may have specific tools you need to carry with you.

Whatever you take individually (i.e. not inside another container… the cell phone being an exception), add that to your count of the number of items.


Say OUT LOUD the number of items you are bringing, such as, “Today I have 5 items.” Speaking this phrase out loud gives your brain two impressions: the mental count and the auditory imprint of your voice, increasing the likelihood you will remember. If you wish, jot this number down on a post-it or record a note on your phone. You can label the note with the date to ensure it is current.


Each time you move from one location to another (e.g. you leave the cab to walk into the building, or you exit the playing field and head back to the car), COUNT the number of items you have with you. If you have fewer than you should, go through your mind to figure out what you might be missing. It may take a moment to recollect what you have left behind, but knowing you are short is enough to turn you around and prevent you from getting too far away before realizing your mistake.

The secret to this system is its simplicity in that it primarily requires you only to remember one number. It is easier to do a quick number count than it is to mentally review a list of every possession you might be lugging around. If you tally the correct number of items, you know you have what you need. Using this memory tool is surprisingly effective, and it works for both children and adults.

If you have lost too many phones to count, or your child can’t seem to come home with his sweatshirt, why not give it a try?

* * * * *

Do you struggle with leaving items behind? What are you most likely to forget?

36 thoughts on “Stop Leaving Items Behind”

  1. Your “Number of Items Trick” is a unique way to know where your things are when you’re on the go. It reminds me of how schools handle keeping track of kids when they’re on a field trip. Every child is assigned a number and when the teacher requests a “count,” the kids call out their number in sequential order.

    I use a different method for keeping track of my things when I’m on the go. I keep them grouped together. So for example, when I’m at a client’s house, I establish a “home base” for my stuff. As I work, I might need to separate some of the items and bring them into the room I’m working, but they remain by my side. When it’s time to pack-up, I bring all my things back to home base.
    Linda Samuels recently posted…7 Surprising Letting Go Lessons I Learned at Organizing ConferenceMy Profile

    1. That is such a great idea, Linda. I have trouble with this sometimes when I am working in a space full of stuff. I pull out my label maker or my scissors and they get visually lost in the piles. This is hard for me because in my own space, anything left out is very visible to me, so I don’t forget it. I’ve started a similar approach when I am at a client space. As soon as I am finished using an item, it either gets stored on me (e.g. my knive through a belt loop or measuring tape in my pocket), or I take it back to my supplies box!

  2. This tip is awesome and I am going to Disney by myself in the next two weeks or so for a quick business trip. So definitely going to keep the counting numbers idea in mind for that as I will be by myself and need all the help I can not leaving something behind in transit. So, thanks for this help!

    1. Disney all by yourself? Wow, that sounds terrific. Have a wonderful time, and let me know what you think about counting your number of items:) Hope you have full sunshine and come back with more helpful Disney tips!

    1. A little song is a great idea. It engages your brain in another way, which definitely helps you remember. I remember many things that I put to a tune when I was little (even a wide variety of things I actually no longer need to remember:) )

    1. It really helps in hotel rooms and airplanes and traveling. I feel it is kind of a shortcut way to make sure you have what you need. I completely agree that there are so many distractions, it is very easy to leave something behind. I have left a cell phone charger in two in hotel rooms over the years, so that one I have to be particularly careful about!

  3. It’s funny – I don’t struggle with it, but I struggle with the THOUGHT of it. And I see myself in this. Des is like me too. We’ll often be mentally counting as we stroll through town or wherever to make sure there’s still an item in each pocket or each hand, or etc. And that my purse feels the same heft it should feel. I love your tricks!

    1. I can relate to the idea of my purse feeling like it has the right heft. I panic if I pick up my purse and it feels too light. I think there is a kinesthetic awareness there. Thinking about whether we have what we need is helpful, unless it overwhelms our enjoyment of the experience. For me, this little trick has helped me find a middle ground that provides peace that I have what I should.

    1. That summarizes it in a nutshell, Janet. We are less likely to add an item than to forget one, so if we can simply make sure we have the right number, the odds are highly in our favor that we are all set!

    1. Counting is so quick and easy… and then if your count is off, you can go back to the names. Usually I have the same number of items with me, but just like you, sometimes I’ll have something extra, so having the number top of mind just works for me. Thanks for the comment, John!

  4. This is a great option for people who forget things. I am a visual person so I usually keep things in one place to help me not forget anything. I do find that saying to myself, “I brought this ….. and that …. with me. And, this is where I placed it.” helps me stay conscious of what I had and where I placed it.

    1. Visual clues are very helpful for me around my space, where surfaces are clear and I know what is out and/or missing. However, sometimes this system doesn’t work so well when I am in an unfamiliar location, such as the back of an Uber or at a client’s cluttered location. Whatever works is all you need, though, right?

  5. Were you following me in the airport as I traveled to and from the NAPO Conference? I don’t travel often and I have this fear that I’ll leave one of my bags somewhere since I’m used to only carrying a handbag. I have a habit of counting my pieces and saying the number over and over so I don’t forget. It worked! It’s especially helpful after you’ve gone through security and have to retrieve your belongings while you’re trying to put your shoes back on! Great tips!

    1. Oh yes, that is definitely a place you need to make sure you have the right number of items. Security is tricky because you have to take items out of your bags, so you actually need a special count just for that experience!

  6. I like this idea. I once left a coat (I thought at a client’s home). It took me 4 days to realize it. Called the client, went all the way out there. She didn’t have it. Finally realized that I had left it at the next place I visited after my client appointment. A lot of wasted time. A lesson in creating a new habit to not leave things behind.

    1. What a frustrating experience! I hate when I can’t remember where I’ve left something. Retracing your steps is the right move, but I agree that it can be time consuming. Oh well, none of us is perfect, right? We do the best we can:)

  7. Very clever! I have found that using different tote bags for different errands/events helps me. For example, I decided to use a backpack that also had room for a small purse with a small wallet, my conference notes, water bottle, a few snacks, & cell phone–all together in one bag! Very easy to carry around the airport & conference & all zipped up & safe. I traveled with one carryon bag & backpack.

    1. That is a great idea, Olive! I can see how that would work so well. Some people are organized enough to plan that kind of system in advance, and it works well to have smaller containers inside your bigger bag. This tip was largely designed for those who won’t think it through in advance, and might run out with a coat, a briefcase, a phone, keys, and other things that aren’t all together in one bag. Of course, any system that works is a good one, right?


    1. Yes, sometimes it just isn’t worth it to take your whole purse, especially if it is heavy and you are walking a long distance. Those are the times (when you are out of your normal routine) where a trick like this can be very helpful!

  9. I use this tool all the time in talking with someone. As they are speaking and questions or points I want to share come to mind, I simply, unobtrusively raise a finger, then second and so on. When they have completed what they’re saying, it’s easy for me to remember what I want to say or ask in response. Also, actually acknowledging that you have (show the fingers) 3 questions helps the other person share the responsibility of making sure you get to ask all your questions/make all your points.
    It’s much easier to remember each item when your brain has assigned a finger or number to each item in addition to remembering the number of items.

    1. I love this idea, Susan! I sometimes do this as well, reminding myself by a show of fingers how many points I want to make. Isn’t it interesting that the simple step of enumerating something helps us remember? If only I were a brain scientist I could probably explain why it works:)

  10. Great hack! I actually do something similar in the mornings before I leave work regarding the oven. I’ll actually say out loud “The stove is off” so when I’m driving to work I don’t have that “OMG, did I turn off the burner?!” moment. Something about speaking it out loud helps – it’s like we’re speaking it into the universe as protection against forgetfulness! 😉

    1. I completely agree and often do the same. I need to be fully present (using my whole brain) for stuff like that. I have an old coffee pot that does not shut off automatically, so I have to talk about the fact that I am turning it off and then I open the top so I also have a visual that this has been done. I think speaking out loud is powerful because that helps us avoid doing it mindlessly, which is when we cant’ remember if that task has been compeleted!

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